What’s gonna be happenin’ here this year

Across town from this red barn, when I sit in the 250-year-old Quaker meetinghouse, the ancient Regulator clock ticks away. It irritates some worshipers and comforts others.

I know the timepiece wasn’t part of the original décor. Likely arrived a hundred or more years later. The classic Regulator, with its eight-day run on a single winding, came along with the railroads as one way of getting everyone on the same time to match the trains’ timetables. No more guessing, I guess. These days, our instrument gains about eight minutes a day. But it’s also on its last legs … or hands, ahem. The clock repairers have told us that much.

There’s something fitting about an old clock marking time now. Its heartbeat, so rooted in the past, has an air of eternity along with the flash of the passing present.

Hard as it is for me to believe, the Red Barn is entering its eighth year, and each one has been somewhat different. Last year, for instance, the focus shifted to my newly released novel, What’s Left, and some of that emphasis will continue through the year coming. That volume has become central to the series that originally proceeded it, and as a result of recent revisions, those books have now been thoroughly reworked to more fully embody the new perspectives.

As a result, we’ll also be reflecting the releases of two more of those novels this year, plus another thoroughly revised tale involving yoga.

With these publications, I’m feeling the satisfaction of having accomplished a standard I long believed was within my reach. I hope readers will feel similar pleasure in their pages.

~*~

Jnana’s Red Barn is the flagship of my related WordPress blogs, which are also gearing up for the new year.

Thistle/Flinch, my personal small-press operation, will keep the name in its address even as the imprint itself goes to the originally planned Thistle/Finch moniker, after the golden songbird – just for the L of it, as a punster might say. (It might be confusing, I know, but it beats changing the URL altogether.)

Its pace of releases will step up to one a week, including photo albums and printable broadsides.

The new direction will also reissue many of the earlier collections in much shortened, easier-to-handle formats. A full-length collection may be great when you’re buying a paper edition, but it’s just too clumsy, I think, in a PDF file.

Chicken Farmer I Still Love You, meanwhile, will be recasting its Talking Money series, this time keeping each post short, sweet, and more tightly focused for individual reflection. These useful exercises in addressing personal finances are timeless, ready for a new generation to apply their wisdom.

As Light Is Sown will also be in an encore mode as it repeats its Daybook of inspiration that originally ran in 2014.

Take a look at them all!

I hope they add pleasure and value to your new year.

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BOTH NOVELS TAKE PLACE IN THE SAME TOWN MANY YEARS APART

My newest novels are both set in the same college town, but each one focuses on a different locale within it.

Daffodil Uprising takes place largely on the campus, and even when three of the characters move off into a shabby apartment, their focus is on college. It’s an outpost in more ways than one.

What’s Left, in contrast, settles into a neighborhood between the school and the courthouse square. The town and its university aren’t even named in this account. Instead, Cassia’s family’s restaurant is the center of attention, along with their surrounding properties. This story has a strong sense of the town itself, including the river, and the family’s impact on the community.

One thing I’ll confess is that in abstracting the location, I’ve created a place that doesn’t actually exist in the state. There’s nowhere along the Ohio River that’s just an hour from Indianapolis. Consider it as something like the visual tricks Edward Hopper performed in his paintings. Things feel right, despite the realities.

Southern Indiana, with its hills and forests, really is defined in large part by its relationship to the river. I hope I’ve heightened that sense.

ADMITTING THE DARKER SIDES OF HIPPIE

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years pondering the hippie movement. The nation has stubbornly maintained a state of denial regarding those years – and the consequences for public policy have been toxic. The hippie side, especially, has been portrayed as an unrealistic stereotype. Nobody, but nobody, really looked or acted like that.

My wife – who came along after the flowering of the movement and grew up in the Deep South, far from its vitality – contends that the hippie label itself now means “loser.” I’d like to disagree, but when I look around at those who outwardly fit the image, I usually have to agree. Even trying to come up with a suitable synonym can be elusive. Bikers most look the role but hardly embody the light-hearted essence or its underlying desperation.

In revising my novels set in the period, I’ve finally more fully acknowledged the darker facets of the era. Some hippies were violent, contrary to peace. There was anger, contrary to love. There were freeloaders and bums and betrayals. As for bad drug trips or destructive addiction? In the end, so much feels like a string of broken promise. We had so much potential and came much closer to achieving the dream than we might have imagined, only to see it slip from our hands.

An America of Walmart and Fox is nothing like the healthy alternative of community and equality we anticipated. Politics and the power of global conglomerates has been responsible for much of the loss – I’ll save those rants for later.

The dream, though, doesn’t need to die. In fact, its essence may be more essential now than ever before. Having my character Cassia look at it from today feels quite relevant. I hope so.

That said, I’ve changed the name of the series of novels from Hippie Trails to Freakin’ Free Spirits, which I feel is more accurate regarding the individuals inhabiting the stories.

Let me know what you think.

Daffodil Uprising

My new novel reflects much of my revised thinking, as related a generation later.

I REALLY WELCOMED THE OPPORTUNITY TO RECAST MY NOVELS

Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords.com, is a refreshing breeze in the publishing world. With his ebook empire, he’s allowed countless authors and aspirants to put their work in front of the public at no cost. And, unlike Amazon, he’s made these works available across a range of digital retailers and their platforms. That in itself is amazing.

I find his reflections on the publishing industry refreshing. For one, he’s noted that one of the advantages of ebooks is that they can be updated and revised easily and inexpensively. A new cover, for example, can work wonders. When it comes to paper publishing, this would cost thousands and is almost unthinkable.

Well, that got me thinking about my earlier novels once I had finished polishing What’s Left, which begins a generation later. Looking at those events from the perspective of the central hippie boy’s daughter, I realized crucial changes were due. I just had no idea how thorough they’d be.

For one thing, I found myself renaming many of the characters and giving each one more of a backstory and motivation. In Daffodil Uprising, the dorm residents no longer run as a pack, and I’m especially fond of three who end up functioning as elders.

I also added a weekly peace vigil and a clandestine bomber, even before getting to the university president and his conniving wife. I’m still not sure which one is more of a vampire.

Now that the entire Hippie Trails series has been recast into a Freakin’ Free Spirits cycle, I’m quite happy that the books form a more coherent whole. Being away from the newsroom for the past several years has allowed me to look more closely at the fictional scene I create. The journalist would see mostly action but not much of the characters’ differing psychologies. Just the facts, ma’am. This time around, I’m hooked on their quirks – especially their irrational feelings.

And as for the dreaded editorializing? Not me, oh no. But Cassia’s presence freely unleashes an opinionated viewpoint that I find most refreshing. That daughter can have quite a tongue.

THAT VICTORIAN APARTMENT WAS REAL

The once grand dame of an apartment house turned shabby that I describe in my novel Daffodil Uprising was real, though situated in Upstate New York rather than southern Indiana. A little bit more poetic license, if you will, in my relocating the blocky building.

I use the past tense, because satellite searches inform me the structure has been demolished, no doubt because of some of the health and safety issues the story relates. Bringing everything up to code would have cost a fortune.

Well, maybe a fire did it in. That, too, feels quite plausible.

When Kenzie and his two buddies flee their dorm, they have such high expectations. So did I, in what was supposed to be a haven after college. Look, this was what a professional journalist could afford – slum housing.

Still, the moldy manse was memorable and possibly haunted. I certainly heard rumors to that effect.

TEN GOOD REASONS TO VOTE

When it comes to election results in most of the locales I’ve lived in, I’ve awakened to find myself in the minority. Sometimes, discouraged, I’ve wondered if it’s even made sense to show up to cast my ballot.

On the other hand, believe me, being victorious can feel unbelievably vindicating.

That said, let me argue that casting your vote is not about winning. It’s about taking a stand.

Here are ten reasons you need to do it – especially if you live in the United States today.

  1. It’s witness. The Bible presents a sequence of prophets and faithful individuals who have publicly done what’s right, no matter what. There’s good reason to have a multiparty system and its loyal opposition. Voting is one way of strengthening your own convictions.
  2. It’s protest. In the current political climate, persecuted people and other nations need to know that not all Americans accept the tragic and reckless actions our government has been taking. History needs to know there have always been people of integrity, even when the current turns toward fascism.
  3. You’re a reader. That means you’re better informed than the average Fox channel viewer. At the least, you cancel his vote. (Whew!) Better yet, you one-up him. (Yay!) Go for it.
  4. As an informed voter, you can know who the big PAC money is supporting and cast your ballot against their candidates. Remember, in the end, the PACs want you to pay your taxes for their benefit. Defend yourself.
  5. Some good people are running. Contrary to nihilistic conservative voices, not all candidates are crooks – in fact, that argument begins to sound like a mea culpa. Win or lose, honorable candidates need support in knowing they’ve done the right thing in campaigning. Otherwise, you’ve endorsed corruption and we’ll all pay dearly. You wouldn’t want that, would you?
  6. Officeholders often feel alone when it comes to being true to their own moral values They need individuals to confirm their intuition. You can sway them in the direction events take, even into the next term.
  7. Public policy decisions affect real actions for good or bad. You can back a candidate who’s going to solve problems rather than make more. And please, don’t settle on blank promises like “create new jobs” – ask what it actually means in detail. A job at Walmart won’t put much food on the table or pay the rent, not where I live, and will likely wipe out someone else in the process. Frankly, I’d rather have the someone else. Yada yada. Also listen for what they leave unsaid. Anyone remember hearing anything about taking over the Internet in our last national balloting?
  8. Nurture future leaders. I’m encouraged to see talented fresh faces stepping up to the challenge across the nation. They need a boost. And we need theirs. Confirm their idealistic aspirations.
  9. Screw the bastards. You can vote against incumbents and register your complaint, at the least. Rotten apples are destroying the barrel and need to be purged. This may be our last chance to trash them and wash the container. Don’t lose it. Let the good win out, please. Just look at what the partisan takeover of the Supreme Court is doing to the nation’s workers.
  10. Defend your liberty. In essence, not voting is the same as not having the right to vote. Think about that. It’s time to come to the defense of your essential rights or else lose them. Democracy is being assaulted by reactionary forces.

~*~

What reasons would you add?

LETTING THE POET SPEAK FOR HIMSELF

I had long been perplexed why my modern American poetry class in the late ’60s had spent so much time on Edwin Arlington Robinson, especially since we never got up to more pressing figures like Kenneth Rexroth, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, or Gary Snyder.

I made a jab at this plaint in my Daffodil Sunrise novel, where our budding photographer was panicking while typing away on his take on Robinson.

More recently, when reworking that manuscript into Daffodil Uprising, I found myself running with the poet more fully.

For one thing, I had to admit he was more contemporary than I’d allowed back in college. His lines and insights are clean, prescient of new approaches, even snippy.

For another, he could be bitter, sarcastic, depressed – as were many beats and budding hippies.

Edwin Arlington Robinson. I still think he looks like a proto-hippie.

His parents themselves weren’t that far from bohemian, either. His mother couldn’t even come up with a name for him, after all, and that fell to a circle of “summer people” visiting Maine. They put names in a hat or whatever and the slip of paper that came up was Edwin. The woman was from Arlington, Massachusetts. Bingo. We have a middle name.

His eldest brother went from being a successful businessman to bankrupt and alcoholic to die in poverty with tuberculosis.

His other brother, a physician, became addicted to morphine and died of what might have been an intentional overdose.

Living the past 31 years in northern New England, I’m now familiar with the culture Robinson grew up within. Gardiner, Maine, is a few hours up the road from us. I have friends whose roots are there.

Without giving a spoiler, let me say Robinson is now an active figure in the new novel. He infuses some wonderful, if sardonic, perspectives to the younger generation, and becomes a foil for similar spirits from the Edwardian past that sway the photographer’s girlfriend, too.

Would he talk this way, though? Who knows.

By now we’re dealing with fantasy, anyway, and that’s so unlike the concrete details of his verse. Again, we’ll excuse ourselves with poetic license.